Almost 44 years ago, Title IX gave female athletes the resources to succeed on and off the field.
Since it began in 1972, Title IX has leveled the playing field between the sexes by prohibiting gender discrimination within programs receiving federal financial assistance, according to Amy Wilson, director of NCAA inclusion.
When the law was passed, men were receiving almost all of the resources and most of the opportunities to participate in college athletics, Wilson said. College athletic departments awarded the majority of scholarships to men.
“The law has had a major influence on women getting access to play and the resources needed to do it,” Wilson said.
Yet even though Title IX has had many positive outcomes over the decades, budget discrepancies between men’s and women’s sports persist.
According to the 2015-2016 athletic budget, the University of Florida operates its men’s and co-ed sports programs at an expense of $84.8 million. Its women’s programs operate at $11 million.
At UF, there are 11 women’s sports programs. Seven of the programs have won a national championship, while nine have brought home an SEC championship.
With six national championships since 1992, the UF tennis program has won more national titles than any other sport at the university over the past 40 years. The softball program won back-to-back national championships in 2014 and 2015. The women’s tennis program operates at $246,000 per year, and the softball program does not fare much better at $388,000.
Kate Harte, director of tennis operations at UF, refutes the notion that her program receives less funding than it deserves based on performance, but admits that the fan base is not quite there.
“I think the one place where I would like to see more participation is from a fan standpoint in women’s sports,” Harte said. She added that the program continually sets itself apart from others in the country, despite the absence of fanfare or an inflated expense sheet.
“I think the product we produce is great,” Harte said.
Today, the total number of scholarships available to female athletes is actually greater than the number awarded to men when considering all 23 varsity sports recognized by the NCAA, according to the organization. However, the university offers more scholarships overall to men than to women based on the varsity sports available for each gender.
The University Athletic Association budgeted $7.6 million for men’s scholarships in 2015-2016, while women’s scholarships totaled $5.9 million. But these scholarships, unlike the budgets for individual sports, are the one component of Division I athletics controlled by the NCAA, not the UAA.
NCAA division I schools are able to offer up to 85 full and partial scholarships to football players. To compensate for the number of scholarships available proportional to the size of a football team’s roster, female athletes are awarded more scholarships in all but two of the other varsity sports. According to an ESPNW report, this means that an entire roster of female athletes may be awarded full scholarships for a sport such as tennis, which usually has eight members.
And for university recruiters, scholarship money is a powerful tool. Football programs use it to entice athletes, who might not otherwise be able to afford tuition at a division I university. This is where scholarship limitations on women’s sports may be problematic, according to that same report.
In terms of overall budgets, the UF men’s basketball team operates at $2.4 million, while the women’s basketball team has a budget of $1.4 million, a $1 million discrepancy. However, all men’s sports are required to retain an amount of money equal to the sales taxes generated from tickets for sports events and use that money for women’s athletics, according to a USA Today report. The women’s sales tax generated by UF in 2014-2015 was about $1.5 million. This money is taken out of the total revenue generated from men’s sports.
“I think the mindset is often that more money is invested where more revenue is produced,” Wilson said.
She added that Title IX does not prohibit athletic departments from “tiering,” or providing the most resources and financial assistance to sports that draw the most fanfare, revenue or national attention.
“While Title IX has been a law for nearly 44 years, there is still much progress to be made for women in terms of participation opportunities, resource allocation and leadership positions in intercollegiate athletics,” Wilson said.
The requested budgets for every sport originate with the directors and then proceed to the UAA for final approval. So why don’t women’s programs ask for an equal or greater amount of money than men’s athletics?
According to a study conducted by the Women’s Sports Foundation, female athletes only receive 35 percent of total athletic expenditure. While Title IX works to bridge this gap, it doesn’t cover situations where women’s sports programs fail to request more funding. Many men’s sports, such as football and baseball, are more costly to operate and therefore require more funding.
Lynda Tealer, the executive associate athletic director at UF, said the UAA aims to provide teams with equal resources, opportunities and experiences. Their goal to provide equal resources is an ongoing project.
She said the UAA’s commitment to all university sports comes ahead of a championship. Tealer added that championships are a culmination of several things: quality coaches, talented student athletes, resources, commitment and some luck.
“The commitment won’t change,” Tealer stressed. “It’s still about every program, men and women, having what they need to be successful.”
Similarly to how a program is judged based on its accomplishments, Title IX is evaluated based on the results of its practices. According to the NCAA, Title IX does not just ensure that all athletes are given equal resources to succeed, but it also gives them something much more valuable: a voice.
Tealer said the UAA asks itself a set of questions to determine whether it is following the best practices of Title IX.
“It gives us a chance to look back, and say, ‘Did we meet our goal of providing an equal experience, an equitable opportunity for both men’s and women’s programs?’” she said.